Finished TTC course Conquest of the Americas by Marshall C. Eakin. 24 lectures. Concentrates much more on Latin America than north North America, but gives a lucid and thorough overview of that area. He's particularly strong on the social and cultural side of things. He quotes extracts from contemporary sources at length, and does several fascinating little pocket bios of people with interesting lives, which keeps the series from getting too dry.
Eakon points out some factors as important that I hadn't thought about. As well as lacking bronze, steel and the wheel, the South Americans lacked useful beasts of burden. Apparently puny alpacas are no substitute for horses, mules, donkeys or oxen.
The more well-known factor is that the Native Americans had no immunity to old-world diseases like smallpox, and so were devastated on contact.
I'm a little bit skeptical about some of the emphases he puts on things though. He talks a lot about the New World silver (and to a lesser extent gold) as a big driver of economic growth in Europe. He doesn't mention the inflationary consequences much though. Update [2008-4-27 11:22:53 by TheophileEscargot]: (Probably because there were very little, see comments). Printing/coining more money alone doesn't really boost the economy much in real times, especially over a long period. I think you have to look at trade, and the increased supply of commodities and labour as the main drivers of growth. Though if there hadn't been any silver or gold, I suppose that would have led to deflation: fortunately the currency more than kept pace with the amount of goods and services around.
I also think he overstates cultural factors like Christianity. He claims Christianity is particularly expansionist, but the Roman, Persian, Hellenistic and Mauryan empires managed a fair amount of conquest without monotheism. And having Genesis give them dominion over the beasts of the earth didn't lead the Israelites to conquer Rome and chuck priests of Jupiter to the lions.
I think he might also be underestimating the military superiority of the conquistadors over the Aztecs and Incas. The conquistadors had the benefit of thousands of years of steady improvement not just of metal weapons, but the tactics of their use. Greek hoplites had an advantage over the less-equipped; the Macedonian phalanx-cavalry combination had an advantage over them; the Roman legions had some kind of edge over Macedonian-style armies; Asian horse-archers outdid the Romans; stirrup-and-couched-lance medieval knights had an advantage over them; and firearms users had and advantage over them.
So, it's not just a question of the guys with guns defeating the guys with sharp rocks: the conquistadors must have had a massive advantage overall, especially including the crucial combination of greater mobility and greater range. So, when they allied with side of a civil war, they must have made an absolutely crucial difference.
One thing about colonial history is that there seems to be an exceptionally emotional tone to it. This does seem to be justified in these cases. The thing about the conquest of the Latin America is that all the crises happened at once. You got the equivalent of the Black Death, the Norman Conquest, the Industrial Revolution and the Terror Famine all happening at once; plus the uniquely large-scale institution of plantation slavery. I think the combination of all these factors does lead to a uniquely horrible period of history.
Another interesting thing Eakin points out is that the Southern US was economically and socially more like Latin America than the North. He does a tiny bit of speculation on what if there'd been no civil war, suggesting that like Latin America it would have taken the US South a lot longer to try to reconcile races and classes.
When you see the history like this, the existence of that strangely divided nation the United States seems a little odd. Surely it would make more sense to have a Greater Canada covering the English-speaking North of North America, and a Greater Mexico extending over the Latin portion. Maybe add a couple of Mid-Western buffer states to keep the peace and you've got a much more logical division.
Overall, a good course: informative and interesting, though maybe a little skewed.
Next TTC is course is Understanding Genetics: DNA, Genes, and Their Real-World Applications by David Sadava. Not sure if it might be too diagrammy to work as an audiobook, will wait and see.
Old K5 news: Rusty buys a yacht.
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